35682    Chevron Corp. v. Yaiguaje

Private international law — Foreign judgments — Recognition — Enforcement

On appeal from the judgment of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (2013 ONCA 758), dated December 12, 2013, setting aside a decision of Brown J. (2013 ONSC 2527).

The oil‑rich Lago Agrio region of Ecuador has long attracted the exploration and extraction activities of global oil companies, including Texaco. As a result of those activities, the region is said to have suffered extensive environmental pollution that has disrupted the lives and jeopardized the futures of its residents. For over 20 years, the 47 respondents/plaintiffs, who represent approximately 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian villagers, have been seeking legal accountability and financial and environmental reparation for harms they allegedly suffered due to Texaco’s former operations in the region. Texaco has since merged with Chevron, a U.S. corporation. The Appellate Division of the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbíos affirmed an Ecuadorian trial judge’s award of US$8.6 billion in environmental damages and US$8.6 billion in punitive damages against Chevron. Ecuador’s Court of Cassation upheld the judgment except on the issue of punitive damages. In the end, the total amount owed was reduced to US$9.51 billion.

Since the initial judgment, Chevron has fought the plaintiffs in the U.S. courts and has refused to acknowledge or pay the debt. As Chevron does not hold any Ecuadorian assets, the plaintiffs commenced an action for recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. It served Chevron at its head office in California, and served Chevron Canada, a seventh‑level indirect subsidiary of Chevron, first at an extra‑provincially registered office in British Columbia, and then at its place of business in Ontario. Inter alia, the plaintiffs sought the Canadian equivalent of the award resulting from the judgment of the Appellate Division of the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbíos. Chevron and Chevron Canada each sought orders setting aside serviceex juris of the amended statement of claim, declaring that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the action, and dismissing or permanently staying the action.

The motion judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favour with respect to jurisdiction. However, he exercised the court’s power to stay the proceeding on its own initiative pursuant to s. 106 of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act. The Court of Appeal held this was not an appropriate case in which to impose a discretionary stay under s. 106. On the jurisdictional issue, it held that, as the foreign court had a real and substantial connection with the subject matter of the dispute or with the defendant, an Ontario court has jurisdiction to determine whether the foreign judgment should be recognized and enforced in Ontario against Chevron. With respect to Chevron Canada, in view of its bricks‑and‑mortar business in Ontario and its significant relationship with Chevron, the Court of Appeal found that an Ontario court has jurisdiction to adjudicate a recognition and enforcement action that also named it as a defendant.

Held (7:0): The appeal should be dismissed.

Canadian courts, like many others, have adopted a generous and liberal approach to the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. To recognize and enforce such a judgment, the only prerequisite is that the foreign court had a real and substantial connection with the litigants or with the subject matter of the dispute, or that the traditional bases of jurisdiction were satisfied. There is no need to demonstrate a real and substantial connection between the dispute or the defendant and the enforcing forum. In actions to recognize and enforce foreign judgments within the limits of the province, it is the act of service on the basis of a foreign judgment that grants an Ontario court jurisdiction over the defendant. To conclude otherwise would undermine the important values of order and fairness that underlie all conflicts rules, and would be inconsistent with this Court’s statement that the doctrine of comity must be permitted to evolve concomitantly with international business relations, cross‑border transactions, and mobility.

This Court has never required there to be a real and substantial connection between the defendant or the action and the enforcing court for jurisdiction to exist in recognition and enforcement proceedings. An unambiguous statement by this Court that a real and substantial connection is not necessary will have the benefit of providing a fixed, clear and predictable rule, allowing parties to predict with reasonable confidence whether a court will assume jurisdiction in a case with an international or interprovincial aspect and will help to avert needless and wasteful jurisdictional inquiries.

Two considerations of principle support the view that the real and substantial connection test should not be extended to an enforcing court in an action for recognition and enforcement. First, the crucial difference between an action at first instance and an action for recognition and enforcement is that, in the latter case, the only purpose of the action is to allow a pre‑existing obligation to be fulfilled. As the enforcing court is not creating a new substantive obligation, there can be no concern that the parties are situated elsewhere, or that the facts underlying the dispute are properly addressed in another court. The only important element is the foreign judgment and the legal obligation it has created. Furthermore, enforcement is limited to measures that can be taken only within the confines of the jurisdiction and in accordance with its rules, and the enforcing court’s judgment has no coercive force outside its jurisdiction. Similarly, enforcement is limited to seizable assets found within its territory. As a result, any potential constitutional concerns relating to conflict of laws simply do not arise in recognition and enforcement cases: since the obligation created by a foreign judgment is universal, each jurisdiction has an equal interest in the obligation resulting from the foreign judgment, and no concern about territorial overreach could emerge.

Beyond this, it must be remembered that the notion of comity has consistently been found to underlie Canadian recognition and enforcement law. The need to acknowledge and show respect for the legal action of other states has consistently remained one of comity’s core components, and militates in favour of recognition and enforcement. Legitimate judicial acts should be respected and enforced, not sidetracked or ignored. The goal of modern conflicts systems rests on the principle of comity, which calls for the promotion of order and fairness, an attitude of respect and deference to other states, and a degree of stability and predictability in order to facilitate reciprocity. This is true of all areas of private international law, including the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. In recognition and enforcement proceedings, order and fairness are protected by ensuring that a real and substantial connection existed between the foreign court and the underlying dispute. If such a connection did not exist, or if the defendant was not present in or attorn to the foreign jurisdiction, the resulting judgment will not be recognized and enforced in Canada. No unfairness results to judgment debtors from having to defend against recognition and enforcement proceedings — through their own behaviour and legal noncompliance, they have made themselves the subject of outstanding obligations, so they may be called upon to answer for their debts in various jurisdictions. They are also provided with the opportunity to convince the enforcing court that there is another reason why recognition and enforcement should not be granted. Requiring a defendant to be present or to have assets in the enforcing jurisdiction would only undermine order and fairness: presence will frequently be absent given the very nature of the proceeding at issue, and requiring assets in the enforcing jurisdiction when recognition and enforcement proceedings are instituted would risk depriving creditors of access to funds that might eventually enter the jurisdiction. In today’s globalized world and electronic age, to require that a judgment creditor wait until the foreign debtor is present or has assets in the province before a court can find that it has jurisdiction in recognition and enforcement proceedings would be to turn a blind eye to current economic reality.

Finding that there is no requirement of a real and substantial connection between the defendant or the action and the enforcing court in an action for recognition and enforcement is also supported by the choices made by the Ontario legislature, all other common law provinces and territories, Quebec, other international common law jurisdictions and most Canadian conflict of laws scholars.

In this case, jurisdiction is established with respect to Chevron. It attorned to the jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian courts, it was served ex juris at its head office, and the amended statement of claim alleged that it was a foreign debtor pursuant to a judgment of an Ecuadorian court. While this judgment has since been varied by a higher court, this occurred after the amended statement of claim had been filed; even if the total amount owed was reduced, the judgment remains largely intact. The plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded the Ontario courts’ jurisdiction over Chevron.

The question of whether jurisdiction exists over Chevron Canada should begin and end with traditional, presence‑based jurisdiction. Where jurisdiction stems from the defendant’s presence in the jurisdiction, there is no need to consider whether a real and substantial connection exists. To establish traditional, presence‑based jurisdiction over an out‑of‑province corporate defendant, it must be shown that the defendant was carrying on business in the forum at the time of the action. This is a question of fact: the court must inquire into whether the company has some direct or indirect presence in the state asserting jurisdiction, accompanied by a degree of business activity which is sustained for a period of time. Here, the motion judge’s factual findings have not been contested. They are sufficient to establish presence‑based jurisdiction. Chevron Canada has a physical office in Ontario, where it was served. Its business activities at this office are sustained; it has representatives who provide services to customers in the province. Canadian courts have found that jurisdiction exists in such circumstances. The motion judge’s analysis was correct, and the Ontario Court of Appeal had no need to go beyond these considerations to find jurisdiction.

The establishment of jurisdiction does not mean that the plaintiffs will necessarily succeed in having the Ecuadorian judgment recognized and enforced. A finding of jurisdiction does nothing more than afford the plaintiffs the opportunity to seek recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment. Once past the jurisdictional stage, Chevron and Chevron Canada can use the available procedural tools to try to dispose of the plaintiffs’ allegations. This possibility is foreign to and remote from the questions that must be resolved on this appeal. Further, the conclusion that the Ontario courts have jurisdiction in this case should not be understood to prejudice future arguments with respect to the distinct corporate personalities of Chevron and Chevron Canada or whether Chevron Canada’s shares or assets will be available to satisfy Chevron’s debt.

The judgment of the Court was delivered by Gascon J.

Neutral Citation: 2015 SCC 42. Docket No: 35682

http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/15497/index.do